Sonic attack on the poor

Concert promoter blasts industrial noise at illegal levels to drive away homeless people


It was 11pm on Thursday, May 3, and the ballet was just letting out. Affluently dressed dance enthusiasts streamed arm in arm down Grove street towards the Civic Center BART station chatting about the evening performance. That night's show of Don Quixote at War Memorial and Performing Arts Center was likely excellent judging by the theatergoers' exuberance.

As they passed by the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, a half-dozen homeless people seated along the route begged the procession for change. Across the street and a block down Grove, a few homeless individuals had bedded down for the night in front of the Main Library.

It is these encounters, normal to urban life, that are at the center of a controversial strategy by Another Planet Entertainment, which leases the auditorium from the city, to drive the homeless away. They hope that by blasting a late night sampling of industrial noise through the venue's sound system between the hours of 11pm and 7am, making sleep nearly impossible, that the homeless will be discouraged from congregating there.

A women selling the Street Sheet newspaper on the corner sums up the social tension that invoked the strategy. "They're doing it to keep the homeless from sleeping there. All these people don't want to see the homeless when they come through here," she said, gesturing to the now thin stream from the ballet.

She had heard the noise over the past few nights and described it as deafening. "The first time I heard it I thought the building was under construction, then I thought a motorcycle gang was coming through. It is so bad it makes the windows of the building shake."

Another Planet had no comment on the racket and would not say if the strategy would continue. But in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, company founder Gregg Perloff said the venue has had "an enormous amount of complaints" from their patrons about the homeless.

Late at night, police are powerless to respond to such complaints. The city's carefully crafted sit-lie ordinance, which bars people from assuming either of those postures on city sidewalks during the day, is lifted between the hours of 11pm and 7am to satisfy constitutional concerns that have overturned similar ordinances in other cities.

"This it the first time I've heard of a strategy like this used against the homeless," Bob Offer-Westort, civil rights organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, said of the noise. "It is really problematic for a business to say that people on public property not breaking the law are a public nuance. It is a intrusion of a private company on public space."

Standing in front of the building late on a foggy night, it's easy to see why the homeless would gravitate to here. The building's huge awning, covering much of the broad sidewalk, must be the easiest place to stay dry outdoors for many blocks. And since the demolition of the city's old central bus terminal last year, it is perhaps the largest dry public space in the city's core.

But is this sonic attack even legal? That's a question that the Mayor's Office and the San Francisco Police Department, neither of which answered our repeated inquiries, don't seem to want to address.

San Francisco's noise ordinance is a weighty document. Most cities suffice with a paragraph or two to regulate noise, while San Francisco's ordinance runs nine pages. Noise, or rather the relative lack of it, seems of great importance to the city. There is even a city committee on noise.


it figures that Mayor Lee and his cronies are giving it a pass.

Free earplugs for the poor!

Posted by lillipublicans on May. 16, 2012 @ 7:32 pm

Actually, revisions to San Francisco noise laws in 2008 gutted protections for peaceful enjoyment of residences throughout S.F. The Board of Supervisors passed the legislation on National Election Day—when no one was looking.

Current California Assembly member Tom Ammiano, sponsor of the legislation, didn’t bother to attend the final Board committee hearing. He stated in the press however that it responded to the “many, many noise complaints.”

Changes to the noise ordinance, Article 29, before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, raised the threshold for an enforceable noise complaint citywide from the historic 5 decibels (dBA) to a minimum of up to 55 dBA—and potentially to 70 dBA in mixed-use neighborhoods, with an exception of up to 78 dBA for nightclubs.

The legislation stripped SFPD of jurisdiction for noise coming from inside nightclubs (we can also thank bartender Chris Daly, club owner Gavin Newsom and former supervisor Bevan Dufty for that bit of nonsense).

More to the point of the article, offending noise now sanctioned under S.F. law violates protections of California residents: harassing someone with noise is illegal based on California state law.

Residents of San Francisco need to wake up and hear the special interests at City Hall. If you can imagine, they sound like the sonic attack described in the article.

Homeless or not, your real estate and our civic resources are their gain—whether we like it or not.

Posted by Tom Ferriole on May. 21, 2012 @ 8:17 pm

My partner and I are boycotting Another Planet Entertainment for their BULLYING and HARASSING of SF's weakest and most vulnerable citizens. We are disgusted by APE's decision to sonically abuse the homeless folks we share our city with. We are letting friends on facebook know about APE's heartless actions and we will reach out to artists with shows being promoted by APE to let them know what kind of abuse their artistic efforts are supporting. Another Planet & Gregg Perloff are the worst kind of compassionless jerks. They don't deserve the exclusive contract they've been awarded for the Bill Graham Civic and they don't deserve to profit off San Franciscan's love of music.

Posted by Bully Hater on May. 22, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

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